In 1980, I was approached by Air India with a proposition: They wanted my firm to offer the Andaman Islands and touring India as a diving adventure.
The Andamans are 1100 kilometers off the East, or Calcutta, coast of the Indian subcontinent. I had read about them in Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s books about his explorations with Hans Hass. I say I was receptive is a gross understatement.
I thought the diving should be good, since the Andamans were on one side of India and the Maldives, which I already knew well, were on the other. Jessica and I flew to New Delhi and toured, then went on to Jaipur, Khajuraho, Agra (with the Taj Mahal), Varanasi (formerly Benares) on the banks of the Ganges River), and finally Calcutta. It was a grueling trip, but worth every second.
Indeed, we were so entranced by our travels in India that we didn’t notice a certain little anomaly. When we landed in New Delhi, everyone said that they envied us, because the diving in the Andamans was world-famous. As we crossed from one fabled site to the next, the glowing description of the diving to come gradually faded in enthusiasm. We didn’t pay much attention at the time, and we were already deep into the experience we were having.
At the end of a week of wonders, we flew out of Calcutta, headed for the Andamans. After the short flight, we circled over Port Blair, the capitol, and looked down at the sea. It was—brown. We would soon learn that extensive logging operations had stripped much of the land, and the tropical rains washed it into the sea. Uh-oh.
We landed in Port Blair, unloaded our gear, and were greeted by the local hotel manager. He looked at the bags and said, “Oh—you came here to go—diving?”
We drove to the hotel, while I engaged the manager in a conversation about our getting to dive. We pulled into the hotel just as I asked, “Do you have a dive boat?” He checked us in and then took me out back to a giant shed to see the hotel’s dive boat. There it was, sitting up on a high shelf with a hole where the engine was supposed to be. “There it is, sir!” I said, “But—where’s the engine?” “In Calcutta being repaired, sir!” “How long has it been there?” “A year ago March, sir!”
Next morning, we took a box lunch, drove for an hour on dirt roads and climbed onto a rackety fishing boat with some tanks on it. Then we cruised for three hours South to the Cinque Islands, which were supposed to be their best diving. It was modest at best, but we made the most of it until a wall of cellulose-laden water came like a great murky wall toward us from the direction of Port Blair. We climbed out of the water, motored a couple of miles further South, and hopped in again. We enjoyed the clear water until the dreaded Wall of murk closed in.
All in all, fascinating but not quite what we could sell to our clients. Sigh.
It was modest at best. And then—halfway through our first dive, a wall of grotty water, full of specks of cellulose (sawdust) from the logging, approached like a visible wall. The vast cloud of this scrap rode an ocean current South from Port Blair and arrived while we were diving.
That’s how the week went. I lost seven pounds.
You will not be surprised that we never offered the Andamans to our clientele, but I always regretted that we didn’t have a diving destination we could package with fabulous India...